Daniel Kurtzer | Former U.S. ambassador to Egypt (1997–2001) and Israel (2001–2005), professor of Middle East policy studies at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
Washington’s recognition today of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would not serve U.S. national interests and would not materially enhance Israeli security. The focus must remain on Syria’s murderous policy, the malign actions of Iran and its proxies, and Russian assistance to the Assad regime. Changing the subject now makes no sense, as it would force countries that support Israel’s right to defend itself proactively to pronounce themselves on the sovereignty issue.
The United States strongly supports the principle of the territorial integrity of states. Since 1967 it has considered the Golan to be occupied territory under United Nations Security Council 242, and supported efforts by former Israeli prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, and Ehud Olmert, as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to negotiate a peace treaty with Syria that would involve Israel’s withdrawal. Peace negotiations now are not on the agenda and no one is arguing for an Israeli withdrawal from Golan. Thus, it makes no sense today for the United States to support Israeli sovereignty there.
Nikolaos van Dam | Former Dutch ambassador and author of Destroying a Nation: The Civil War in Syria (2017), also published in Arabic in 2018
Such a step would be an excellent recipe for further undermining U.S. political credibility in the Middle East and elsewhere. Israel’s illegal claims involving the West Bank would follow suit. After half a century of Israeli occupation of the parts of the Golan Heights that it illegally annexed in 1981, there would be little change in the military sense. However, it would create an even more serious obstacle to peace with Syria than already exists. Israel, with U.S. support, apparently prefers to have more territory than to have peace with its Syrian neighbors. No Syrian government would accept a peace deal with Israel for as long as it occupies a part of Syria. Creating peace and regional stability requires much more than Israeli military superiority and force. Most Syrians would be enraged and would strongly reject such an illegal U.S. move, whether they belong to U.S.-supported opposition groups or the regime. Other Arab countries would take a similar position. And though they could not do much about it, the decision would create an even deeper source of conflict.
Michael Doran | Senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, author of Ike’s Gamble: America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East, former member of the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration
What is the Syria that will best contribute to international peace and stability? Anyone truly concerned with this question must conclude that the Golan Heights should remain in Israeli hands. If the territory were to be returned to Syria today, then Iranian soldiers would be peering down their riflescopes at Jewish towns and cities below—an intolerable prospect. But the risk of returning the Golan to Syria is not simply a function of the Assad regime’s alliance with Iran. By its very nature, Syria is an unstable polity. Even if a regime favorable to the United States and to regional stability were one day to emerge in Damascus, we could never count on it to survive. If we want the Golan to serve reliably as a buffer between Syria, Israel, and Jordan, we must leave it in the hands of the Israelis. Finally, the Israelis will never give the territory up. American diplomacy is most effective when based on reality. It’s time for the United States to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.
Alain Gresh | Editor of OrientXXI.info
Such a decision by the United States would only add to the ongoing instability in the Middle East. After the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, it would confirm that the United States is no longer even a “dishonest broker” in Arab-Israel peace negotiations, but rather has become a direct party in the Arab-Israeli conflict. This will make it even more difficult for Washington to broker “the deal of the century” between Israelis and Palestinians. Talks are in limbo, despite many statements this past year on the imminence of a peace plan.
This situation will strengthen the hand of Russia, which is now seen as an important actor maintaining working relations with all regional leaders, from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It will also play into the hands of Iran, allowing Tehran to widen its alliance with certain “Sunni groups.” We can even imagine that it may play into Assad’s hands as well. After the 2006 war in Lebanon, some Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leaders were ready to engage with Assad in the name of the struggle against Israel. Today, U.S. recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights may revive such impulses.
Marwan Muasher | Vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Similar to the U.S. decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem, any decision by the United States to do the same regarding the Golan Heights would have no international legality. International law stipulates clearly that the Golan is occupied Syrian territory. No unilateral U.S. decision can reverse that.
On a practical level, it will mean shooting another bullet into the almost dead Arab Peace Initiative. The premise of the initiative is based on shifting the goalposts from trying to achieve a Palestinian-Israeli agreement to achieving a broader Arab-Israeli one, contingent on Israel withdrawing to the 1967 borders, including from the Golan Heights. Since the initiative was first presented in 2002, Israel’s refusal to seriously consider it, coupled with Syria’s civil war, suggest it cannot be revived. That will have negative repercussions not only on any chance for Syria to regain its land, but on the achievement of a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis. But the U.S. decision on Jerusalem, like any similar position on the Golan, would also assist Israel in shooting itself in the heart if it continues to reject a two-state solution and has to deal with a one-state reality.